Lamenting the demise of Sapperton Rovers (or, how to piss away a century of Canadian football history)

This isn’t a groundhopping review.  It’s a political rant.  Well, more like a whinge, really.

Those of you who read my recent review of Vancouver’s Trillium Park may recall me moaning about Sapperton Rovers (of the Vancouver Metro Soccer League) recently changing their club name to the ridiculously bland, uninspiring and generic “Rovers United” after merging with a Burnaby youth club and then with Vancouver United this past summer.

Why does this development bother me? Because the name “Sapperton Rovers” carries with it possibly more history than any other in British Columbian club football history.

The first recorded association football match played in British Columbia was contested between the Royal Engineers and “New Westminster townsfolk” in May 1862 (some 24 years before the City of Vancouver was incorporated).  The Royal Engineers were known as the “Sappers“, which led to the name “Sapperton” being given to the New Westminster neighbourhood in which they were based.

In the first two decades of the 1900s, a team known as “Westminster Rovers” played in the Vancouver District League, and were fully professional for at least part of their existence.

Vancouver St. Andrews vs. Sappterton AFC, Con Jones Park, 1920 (courtesy Vancouver City Archives)

And in the 1920s, a club called “Sapperton AFC” played to large crowds (including more than 10,000 punters for a match at Con Jones Park, located immediately west of today’s PNE grounds in Vancouver).

Westminster vs. Nanaimo, Con Jones Park, 1932 (Stuart Thomson fonds, City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 99-2629).

Admittedly, the “Sapperton Rovers” of the VMSL was established in 1994; a sagging club was purchased, gutted, and renamed as Sapperton Rovers. It was certainly not a direct continuation of the Sappers, Westminster Rovers or Sapperton AFC.  And there is a roughly 65-year gap between the end of Sapperton AFC and the founding of Sapperton Rovers (so for me to assert that there is a “century” of history here is melodramatic, and is honestly a bit of a stretch at best).

However, it’s still true that whomever created the amateur club back in the 1990s definitely had an understanding of the rich football history of New Westminster, and wanted to ensure that it lived on within a VMSL club.

Rovers United player in 2011-12 season, still wearing "Sapperton" proudly upon his chest (for now).

And that’s why it’s especially sad to see the “Sapperton” being removed from the modern amateur club’s name. While the “Rovers” lives on post-merger, there are probably hundreds of clubs around the world with “Rovers” in their name. “Rovers United” sounds particularly bland, especially as it lacks any sort of geographical identifier (much like if Manchester City and Manchester United were to merge to form a club called “City United”). And in fact, there is already a “Rovers United FC” in existence, in the Caribbean country of St. Lucia.

So too is the new “Rovers United” moniker a loss to the history of the “Vancouver United” name, seeing as a club with the latter name won the VMSL’s Imperial Cup back in 1946.

Surely “Sapperton Vancouver” or “Vancouver Sapperton” would have been a better name for the newly-amalgamated club?  Or possibly even “Vancouver Sapperton Rovers”?   A bit wordy, perhaps, but absolutely teaming with history.

It’s great that many of the Vancouver metro league’s clubs are ambitious, and want to integrate successful youth academies into their fold.  That’s definitely something that helps to change a mere “team” into a club.

But to piss away such rich history, and to perish the name “Sapperton” once again from local football (even if the links between the historical and current clubs were tenuous at best), is a lamentable development.  We hope the decision to rename the club “Rovers United” is re-thought, and that an improved title is awarded, in the near future.


4 thoughts on “Lamenting the demise of Sapperton Rovers (or, how to piss away a century of Canadian football history)

  1. I have been trying to find out more about a photo I have of my great great-uncle from about 1910. He was playing football regularly in BC at that time. The photo I have is of him and his teammates and says “Rovers Football Club Cranbrook BC” on it. Do you know of any other Rovers in BC at that time?
    Paul, Scotland

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